Kang the Conqueror is having something of a moment right now. Hot off the heels of helping to establish the multiversal concept that currently holds court in Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe in Loki—ahead of things to come in the next Ant-Man and the Wasp film—Nathaniel Richards is also the star of a new one-shot this week, Timeless, ringing out 2021 with a tease of what’s to come. And one of those things might be quite the shocking arrival in the world of Marvel Comics.
Timeless—penned by Jed McKay, colored by Marte Gracia, lettered by Ariana Maher, and featuring art from Kev Walker, Greg Land and Jay Leisten, and Mark Bagley and Andrew Hennessy—is primarily a character study of what really makes the Conqueror tick. A sort of twisted riff on Doctor Who with more woolly mammoth wrestling, the issue sees Kang scoop up contemporary superpower professor Anatoly Petrov for an adventure across time and space. It’s an adventure Kang frames as a chance to see the peak of humanity overcome impossible odds across temporal reality, to show the daring courage, confidence, and power he has to prove him one of the greatest superpowered—if distinctly not superheroic—beings in all of existence. In reality, it’s petty as all hell in a way that is as equally Kang-ian as is his love of thrill-seeking challenge: it turns out that Kang has found that Petrov is penning a thesis on 21st century supervillainy that would dare to name Victor Von Doom as the defining face of superpowered evil, and Kang designs his whole timey-wimey venture as an excuse to prove to Petrov that anything Doom could do, Kang could do better.
That temporal genitalia-waving contest is interrupted however, when Kang and Petrov are alerted to a major temporal crisis: a rogue, decaying “pirate timeline” that is seeking to stave off its entropic withering by stitching itself back on to the main Marvel timeline. As Kang battles to show Petrov just how superior he is to Doom—especially when he learns that the potential instigator of the timeline crisis might be some version of Victor—we and Petrov alike are treated to flashes of stories to come, ones we know Marvel has already teased for its 2022 plans: flashes of Ben Reilly, Spider-Man; of a new role for the Punisher; of dire things to come in the Destiny of X. New Avengers, new faces in old mantles, the rise and fall of legends, it’s all there. But none of these are really of particular interest to Timeless #1. Instead, it saves its most shocking and cryptic of visions for its final page, when Kang believes all is well and done, his petty point proven, and drops Petrov back in his own time with some... severe notes about his book. The one vision burned into Petrov’s mind is not of stories we’ve seen teased in Marvel solicits, but of an iconic superheroic symbol that no one in the Marvel universe really quite understands: two angular M’s stacked on top of each other.
A symbol unknown to the denizens of the Marvel universe, but very much known in ours as the superheroic emblem of Miracleman, aka Michael Moran, a reporter who is imbued with vast cosmic power to become Miracleman with a cry of “Kimota!” The character started out in the 1950s as writer Mick Anglo’s attempts to provide a British spin on contemporary comics icon Captain Marvel—not that one, but the then-Fawcett, now-DC Comics hero known as Shazam—after legal issues saw Fawcett end its Captain Marvel comics after DC claimed the character was a copy of Superman. Miracleman (then known as, with all the subtlety of a brick, Marvelman) ran until 1963 in the black-and-white pages of L. Miller & Son comics in the UK. The character was reborn in the early ‘80s by then less-known scribe Alan Moore, in the days before Watchmen, and artists Garry Leach and Alan Davis, as one of the earliest mainstream deconstructions of the superhero genre, predating Watchman’s own critiques to deliver a dark subversion of Marvelman’s history. But Moore and Davis’ series abruptly came to an end in 1984 when legal pressure from Marvel Comics about the character’s name and issues between Moore and the series’ publisher, and Marvelman, now Miracleman, was sold to U.S. publisher Eclipse.
Eclipse began re-releasing the series under the new name, and eventually continued new stories with Miracleman with then-upcoming fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, and artist Mark Buckingham. Miracleman’s vaunted return was short-lived, however: Eclipse collapsed in the mid ‘90s. Its assets were bought by Image’s Todd McFarlane, and a lengthy legal battle for ownership of the work between Gaiman and McFarlane meant Miracleman faded into obscurity for decades, unprintable and ever-more-difficult to find. It turned out years later, however, that Anglo still originally held the rights to the character in spite of decades of legal back and forth, and he sold them to Marvel in 2009. The publisher announced plans to finally reprint both Moore and Gaiman’s takes on the character, with Gaiman and Buckingham returning to continue the story they had wanted to create decades prior. But it never happened—Marvel quietly scrapped the plans to continue the series in 2017, and then reannounced its arrival two years later, only for nothing to appear... until Timeless #1, that is.
The seeming potential arrival of Miracleman once more, and not just that, but as a character within the existence of Marvel Comics continuity, holds fascinating potential—and, admittedly, potential that seems like it could draw parallels to a recent, alternate attempt to bring an independent subversive superhero story into the canon of a mainstream publisher: Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock, which tied Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins’ seminal series Watchmen into the fabric of DC Comics’ then-nascent “Rebirth” universe. Just what Marvel has planned for Michael Moran right now remains to be seen—but his arrival in the publisher’s comics universe seems to be a portent of some challenging times ahead for the fabric of Earth-616 and its many multiversal counterparts.
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